Racing in the Baja 1000, 2013
The day started a bit hectic and you must realize that there were three teams preparing to leave. No matter how much you prepare there always seem to be last minute details and stuff you just don’t think about. You soon see a cleared shop floor, vehicles loaded up, and then there is one thing left to do,,,get in the car and start it up. Every step seemed to go in slow motion and you realize that it’s all come down this,,,getting in the car to do what it was built to do,,RACE. We gathered as a team, had some last words or thanks, we prayed and with that we got in the car, got buckled in, helmets on, intercom communications turned on, WAIT—no communications, only static, our first glitch of the day, but,,,we got it figured out and Cesar and I were able to hear each other. One team picture in front of the car and we were Off to the Races!!
It must have been my longest trip downtown, yes, even when we’ve been late to the movies–it was a long drive. We pulled in and soon had a gathering of some of the other Class 11’s and we all had some time to settle down the butterflies circling around in your gut. It was nice to eventually have the support and best wishes of friends and family and Gabby and Debbie hung out with me until it was time to go,,,and when I say time to go, it was time to go. The staging process was a bit unorganized and there was no “First Call” it was simply get in line and get to the starting ramp. Funny thing though,,,where was my co-driver? I simply had to move forward and luckily I had to stop while they staged me and secured my tracking devices. I yelled out “Where’s Cesar??”,, Debbie replied “In the Bathroom!!” I must say I relived that he ran up and was able to get in the car in time. I can only imagine his face when he walked out to see the car not where he left it. As they were attaching zip ties to secure the tracking device one official was waving us on, while the other official was saying “NO, don’t move!” Dave Forrest out number 3 driver was helping things along, but I was trying to move and it was a stop,go, stop, go… I finally just let the clutch out and raced off.
I went to pull up behind two other Class11’s and they waved me passed and all I could see was an empty starting ramp and as we pulled up on to the ramp #1101 Cop’s was awaiting for the green flag to drop. Your heart is racing, you hear the crowd, you see the other car leave and you drop down to the starting line. You can’t believe where you are, it does not seem real,,,then the hand comes up with 5 fingers and it starts, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Green flag drops and we are off… You make the trip down the paved streets and you head to the river bed. I think we were both saying to each other “this is happening,,,we’re racing in the Baja!!”. We made the drop in to the river bed and you get tunnel vision—you see the crowd, but they are not there, you want to live every moment, but every moment is simply a blur and you concentrate on what’s ahead. But I must say,,,it’s something to hear the crowd cheering you on. We came up on one long sweeping turn that had lots of gravel and rocks mixed in and I did take it a bit to hot. 1121 started to slide out from us, but the corrections were made and simply swung out of it and ricocheted in to the next turn. Yes,,,my heart was pumping and the last thing I wanted was to slide out in the river bed.
We got back out on to paved road and headed east, we soon came up on #1101 and they had already broke down, so we were in Second place,,nice. Back on to the dirt and the real fun started. I had Cesar turn on the pumper as I really had a hard time getting my breathing under control, and the cool air from the pumper helped settle me down. As I see it now you would have thought Cesar and I had been doing this for years as he settled in to his co-driver duties and was soon calmly started calling out orders and directions. Leaving Ensenada was tricky as there were many intersections and y’s in the road, people everywhere, and the thought of “who’s going to try to catch me”. There were dips and bumps, hills, water crossings, very tight turns, and some of it all mixed together. This seemed to continue for while and then we could tell we had totally left Ensenada and started to maneuver the surrounding hills. By this time the Class 19 UTV’s had caught us and we had to either slow down and let them pass, or pull over and let them pass. Then you had to eat their dust for while. We had a couple close calls I must say and we edged up on road embankments. Then you start to see the very harsh realities of the Baja,,,broke down vehicles, some off in ditches, and at one time we simply passed two drivers standing on the edge of the road and no car in sight,,,that’s because most likely they rolled it off the edge of the road. Soon though we came up on an unexpected sight, #1116, our good friends Paul and Ryan. They were either having some problems or simply starting off at a slow pace. I thought about settling in behind them, but sorry,,,just could not maintain that speed and I guess my Dad always had me figured out and knew that I had a Lead Foot! They must have known it was us and they let us by, so with that we were now in 1st place!
As you race this you see areas that you once stood at to actually watch the race, you realize that you are no longer a Spectator and that you are doing what many of the people that blur by you are thinking. A very cool feeling. We came around a bend and Whaaa Laaaa,,,We were in Ojos Negros!! Ojos Negros is a place where we spent lots of time watching the race and my memories of being out there with my High School buddies flashed by and we zoomed by. At the highway crossing we radio’d in for a quick stop to check everything out. We were told we had fluid leaking, but eventually realized it was simply muddy water from the puddles we went through. So we were off with a green light from the pit crew.
Now we started to settle in a finally relax a bit, I really felt as if “OK,,,time to settle down and RACE, take it easy, breath, listen to Cesar and let him do his job” We now started to really hit some rough stuff but man,,,the car was working wonderfully, solid, strong, and did everything we asked of it to do,,,and more. We started to see more cars broke down and we played leap frog with some others. We had some real bouncy hill climbs, whoops, and just a little silt. We were just humming along and a good pace, and all seemed well. All I kept thinking was–“Get the Car to Mile Marker 200 in good shape”.
The road opened up and we were humming along at about 60 mph, but we soon had a hard brake and made some tight turns and them,,,uggggg. An up hill climb that was all sand,,,and it was a long one too. At one point I yelled out “Are you kidding me”. Up and up we went in first gear and don’t dare shift or you are sunk. Finally we reached the top of what ever we were climbing and executed a few turns. We came up on a sharp left had turn, nothing hard, nothing technical about it, but I was a bit hot going into it and simply let the car swing a bit wide rolled over a few branches that had already been trampled on and I just shifted into first gear to roll out of the turn. As I did it sounded as if I picked up one of those branches in the rear suspension. I tried to pull over and I was thinking “OK, let’s shake it off or get out and pull out the branch” but the people around us were giving us the waving fingers across their throats. What could have possible happened. You start to have that sick thought, you start to wonder of what you’ll need to repair, but sadly then you see it,,, Blue Blood trailing behind your car, and a river of it running our of your Transmission, and sadly as they say “Game Over”. It is a sick and harsh reality of this race. You pass other guys and feel bad for them and realize, I’m now that guy. You see your fellow Class 11 racing friends drive by and you know you have to make the call…
“Weather man, Race 1121 we are reporting a blown transmission do you copy?”
“This is Weather man, I copy you 1121, what is your location over”
“We are currently at mile marker 69, can you relay for us over”
“Copy 1121, do you need your team to pull you out over”
“Uhhhhh,,,,Negative Weatherman we have someone to tow us out over”
“Roger that 1121, will you repair”
“………..Uhhhh, negative weatherman, we don’t have a spare,,,over”
“Roger that 1121, sorry to hear, be safe”
A very hard to call to make, the weight of the team was on our shoulders, but there was still some hope as I knew the Desert Dingos carried a spare transmission with them, and they had not yet passed us by,,,we were way ahead of the pack.
We made it out to the highway, caught up with our Chase Team and really, I was just about to break down myself, but I had to do what I often tell my Interns,,,”don’t cry, this is not time to say “I’m Sorry” Just pull it together and figure this out.” I was driven down to The Desert Dingo’s pit area and started with the questions and come to find out they had problems as well, but they were still rolling. They had a shock come off, that was all, so now the solution was simple, Team H12:One had another job to do,,,a sad one, but we had to help the Dingos by stripping parts off of our car. So even in this situation the actions of servant hood had to be demonstrated. We radioed back to tell them to start removing the front shocks. All in all we gave the Dingos Two of our front shocks, a spare CV Axle, and a Stub Axle. We laughed, they could see I was very sad to be out of the race and they circled around with some hugs. With that we made out way back to hook up a tow rope and head home. So I felt like a kid going to school for the first day with new shoes and a kick butt attitude, but came home very humbled with a bloody nose.
Back at TeamH12:One head quarters it was difficult knowing so many had come from so far to be a part of this, so much had went into the planning, preparing packing, people taking time off from work,,,and all to only make it 70 miles into the race, and Why??? Well about that time “The Why” showed up,,,Our Support Crew from Casa Esperanza!! The kids were full of hugs and they treated us like champions, victorious, and winners in every way. They were soon crawling all over the car, helmets on, vaaaroom,Vaaaaroom sounds could be heard, and they even drew us up some posters that said “Thank you for helping us and we love you!” So my dear friends, that’s why we did it, and that’s why we’ll do it again. Yep, I got me a big Bloody nose, the Baja smacked us down, but we are not done and as Gabby said,,,”I know you are very Sad Dad, but this was our first race, but not out last race”.
We’ll now need to repair our transmission, and yes, have a spare built. So pray we can get that accomplished for the Baja 500 in June.
I made my way home, and Jim Graham who is the owner of Desert Dingo Racing had this to say,,,and this mind you is their 7th year of racing, Vorra Champs, and their 4 attempt at the Baja 1000 (which by the way,,they timed out of this race,,,and lost my shock that I gave them, they had a very rough go of it) “Dennis, that is one beautiful car, I envy it. It is built like no other, it’s a work of Art. It’s solid and there is great potential there, I’m just happy that you guys don’t Race in Vorra–hahaha”
“To all that helped and prayed for us, This is 1121 do you copy….”
“We are out of the race,,,,but this race is far from Being over”
“Do you Copy???”
“This is Race1121, over and out”
Run with Perseverance the Race
Marked out for you!